A General Theory of Automobile Intelligence
Not everyone is suited to driving a car. Although car ownership and car use are considered some kind of measure of maturity and independence in the US, the truth is that many people are not destined to be car people, nor should they desire such a fate. Cars both partly require from their users and partly endow to their users something that I call "Automobile Intelligence."
Automobile Intelligence is based upon the ability to repress or deny the fact that the activity that you are engaging in at the moment, the act of driving a car, is extremely dangerous and unnecessary and foolish. It requires that you deny and ignore that there is any other world but that of the road or street on which you pass. Everything else: human beings, buildings, culture, are distractions and possible sources of the imminent destruction that, because of its high speed, is always possible in automobile transportation.
Automobile Intelligence cannot tolerate complexity beyond that of the turns and twists of the road or street. Automobile Intelligence is panicked by the standard dense city patterns of closely packed individualized buildings and narrow streets that require patience and vigilance. Automobile Intelligence is at its best in the numbing land of the freeway, with straight-line speed-ups and easy exits that get you to the place under the tall sign at the edge. Automobile Intelligence demands the flat architecture of the modern suburban strip, one-story big boxes with little detail aside from the stripe that runs a block long or the painted white lines that delineate parking bays on the vast oceans of asphalt. Automobile Intelligence does not search for meaning or transcendence, Automobile Intelligence searches for speed and parking.
Automobiles require that their drivers, as a people, be bland and blunt. Speed demands this. When you are passing through an environment at thirty forty fifty sixty miles an hour you do not have time for details and changes. Details and changes bewilder you and threaten the illusion of control that the steering wheel provides.
Because so many Americans spend so much of their time operating their automobiles, it would be irresponsible to say that automobile intelligence was limited only to those hours behind the wheel. Automobile Intelligence creeps out into all aspects of human life, and colors all other acts of thinking or relationship outside of the car as well.
The blandness and bluntness required of drivers while operating their machines becomes their standard of conduct outside of the car. Their search for uniformity in street landscapes translates into a search for uniformity in other spheres, for example: weather. Automobile Intelligence cannot stand sharp shifts in the world around it -- the shifts from summer to winter are especially painful. Perhaps this explains the popularity of the Southwest United States in this Age of Car, for these states offer the perfect climate for Automobile Intelligence: some of the most uniform weather to be found on the planet.
Rock and roll is the perfect music for Automobile Intelligence because of the limitations of its form: the repetition of only a given number of chords and changes. Prior to fusion and the banalization of their music, most jazz musicians generally rode the subway or streetcar, allowing them to practice complexity.
But, more to the point, Automobile Intelligence exercises a
limited range of our cognitive abilities. Driving requires quick
action and immediate and uncomplicated memory. The subject of
the auto-machine does not have time to think, "Why Stop," or
"Why Stop here?" or even "Why drive anyway," but must react to
every situation that happens as it happens, and react based on a
list of rules and experiences carved into easily accessible
memory. Driving does not exercise those parts of the brain that
make human beings unique: our ability to go beyond the lists of
do's and don'ts and explore new ideas. Innovation and creativity
are slow processes that demand time and the ability to daydream.
Automobile Intelligence privileges the reptilian brain stem,
quick responses coded in surface memory. The car culture is
evolving us out of our abilities to "think outside the box," for
those who daydream while sailing two tons of steel down a
freeway at 65 miles an hour are doomed to annihilation.
In this realm, Automobile Intelligence is particularly exercising a strong impact on the way we live our lives. Children are set before games that, instead of testing their critical thinking abilities or challenging them to cooperate, instead demand an instant response and hand-eye coordination: perfect training for freeway driving or fighter plane operation, but a recipe for doom in the brains of tomorrow's thinkers and doers and leaders in the realm of politics, commerce and just plain day to day life.
There certainly should be room in the world for Automobile Intelligence because we do live by the machine and require that we have some people who, for at a least a few hours a week, operate those machines for a salary. Automobile Intelligence would be handled best by professionals, who can develop a professional sense to guide them through the speed and numbingness of the driving environment. But instead of this we have established a system where everybody must operate the car-machine, and do it on a volunteer basis. Most Americans spend several days of their year as volunteer machine operators for the transportation system, and have Automobile Intelligence so ingrained in their systems that they cannot comprehend that they are being swindled.
With a system of city planning and transportation planning based on mass transit, walking, and bicycling, only certain people have to be practiced machine operators, and they only need to practice Automobile Intelligence while at work. Many of them will take their job home, and find their dreams rocked by the road and the steering wheel, but counseling can always be offered as part of the job to help free them from the limiting intelligence of the vehicle.